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Leaving Yahoo – Going Mobile

On Friday I’ll hand over my badge, laptop, and Blackberry, finishing up three years at Yahoo. I’m leaving MyBlogLog in the good hands of Todd Sampson to drive the product vision and manage the engineering team and Tilly McLain who will look over the day-to-day care and feeding of the site and community.

My self-proclaimed tag line on the internal company directory is turning Yahoo inside out. This has been my personal mission since I joined Yahoo a little over three years ago. There is great stuff to be shared at Yahoo, as long as you let people get to it in a way that’s useful to them.

I enjoyed working with people who shared my passion to transform Yahoo into to a modern platform. It hasn’t been easy – opening up programmatic access to Yahoo is fraught with many built-in conflicts. Third party content licenses, traffic guarantees, and international legal constraints all make it difficult to let services flow completely free. It’s an industry-wide problem. Much of the way the advertising industry measures the impact of their online campaigns is rooted in the pageview metric which runs counter to providing the best of what you’ve got via an API call. For folks such as ComScore (who help advertisers evaluate rates) an API call doesn’t count as a pageview or roll up into a CPM so it’s a hard to argue letting people get at data without forcing them to come to a pageview to get it.

But consumer demand on the internet is like a natural force. If you don’t go with the flow, the market will route around until it finds what it needs. As with ripped music files, if you don’t provide your data via an API and figure out how to build a business off of that, folks will scrape your pages or go to your competitor. Yahoo gets this and there are many people working to provide a structured way to get at their data in a sustainable way that can guarantee that they will be able to continue to provide it. Pay a visit to the Yahoo Developer Network site to see what’s there and watch this space as there’s more in the queue.

With this as a backdrop, I was invited to take my thinking to a new company and a new industry. In a few weeks I’ll be joining Nokia and working to make their devices more socially aware. The Nokia s60, iPhone, Blackberry and Android (rumored) application stores give us developer ecosystems around each device. What will the world be like when devices can communicate with each other via social networks, across device platforms, across mobile carrier networks? Much the same way the web browser has unified communication across Mac & PC, the mobile web will do the same for “broadband-enabled” cell phones. Add GPS (location), Bluetooth (proximity), integrated camera/video and a voice interface and you’ve got a whole new set of opportunities that are just too good to pass up.

Imagine this use case. Your phone knows your alarm goes off at 6am every morning, that you drive the San Mateo bridge every weekday on your way to work at around 7:30am. It’s entirely possible for your phone to automatically check traffic conditions before you leave sometime after you awake and let you know that there is heavier than normal traffic and suggest an alternate route and read it out to you in a phone call, while you drive. If you’ve got your calendar in there, there is no reason that your phone can’t offer to call ahead and let the people in your first meeting know that you’re running late. All the pieces are in place to make this happen, automatically, right on your device. That’s the kind of service that will enhance your life, that’s the kind of service suite I’m excited to build.

Thank you to everyone who lent an ear to my crazy talk in the early days and pointed me to others who would listen and helped me build a band of believers. A nowhere near complete list of shout outs include:

Craig Forman, Scott Gatz, and Don Loeb who brought me in and set me lose on management to get the wheels rolling.

Toby Coppel, Gerry Horkin, Dave Vockell, Gil Ben-Artzy, and David Katz, who took me under their wing in Corporate Development and helped me refine my message into bite-sized Powerpoint presentations and introduced me to the Harvey Ball.

Sumit Chachra, Aaron Stein, Josh Rangsikitpho, John Lindal, Josh Blatt, Cody Simms and others who fought the good fight down in Burbank.

Chad Dickerson, Jeremy Zawodny, Steve Spencer, Jonathan Strauss, Bradley Horowitz, Jeffery McManus, and Robi Ganguly who encouraged hackery and other inspirational corporate trickery.

Thank you especially Todd Sampson, Eric Marcoullier, John Sampson, Steve Ho, Chris Goffinet, Saurabh Sahni, Mani Kumar, Manny Miller, Tilly McLain, Robyn Tippins, Raymund Ramos, Micah Laaker, JR Conlin, Greg Cohn, Havi Hoffman, Cameron Marlow, Matt McAllister, Kent Brewster, Ryan Kennedy, Sam Pullara and all the other MyBlogLog faithful who encouraged or help me build some of the things I was talking about – we released some cool stuff which really pushed the edge and continue to lead the way.

Finally, thank you to my kids who taught me to look at social networks in a new light and and my wife who kept the family ticking and the home fires burning through it all.

For those interested in peering into a subset of what inspires me, here’s a sample of my OPML file. Keep up the good work Marshall, Louis, and Mark.

I’m going to take a week off to re-charge before the new gig kicks off at the Nokia offices in Mountain View. I’m looking forward to working with one of the original Yahoo bloggers, Russell Beattie. It’s been awhile since I’ve been a regular in the South Bay so if you’re interested in getting together, drop me a line.

Goin’ Mobile – The Who

Cognitive Surplus will free up time to

One of the best talks at this year’s Web 2.0 Expo was Clay Shirky on Cognitive Surplus. In it he suggests that modern television is a, “cognitive heat sink, dissipating thinking that might otherwise have built up and caused society to overheat.”

He concludes after describing how a child spent a few minutes looking for the mouse connected to her living room television;

Here’s something four-year-olds know: A screen that ships without a mouse ships broken. Here’s something four-year-olds know: Media that’s targeted at you but doesn’t include you may not be worth sitting still for. 

The ironic thing is that I was stuck in the hallway and missed this talk. I read Clay’s transcript and was moved. But watching him deliver his talk on video was even more impactful (for instance, listening to the collective, “Ahhh!” from the crowd when he delivers the lines quoted above).

As with many involved in the tech industry, I watch very little television but when I do, it’s mediated by timeshifting technology that lets me watch it on my own terms. It’s either on Tivo or filtered through social pointers such as Jeremy’s blog post which determine which videos I invest time to watch.

“The web is in its infancy,” says Tim Berners-Lee and looking at the tools available to manage information flow it’s easy to see why. We’re shifting from a time of channel surfing to web surfing but the evolution from web portals to something more dynamic and efficient has only just begun. The vast wealth of information is still intoxicating and we constantly jump around afraid we’re going to miss something. What’s going to happen when we wake up from this second, “collective bender” and use our spare time to improve the world around us.

Then we will have the capacity, as Tim O’Reilly challenges us, to “wrestle with angels.”

End of an Era

Pay PhoneBack in February Western Union announced that it would no longer be sending telegrams ending a 150 year tradition of the hushed interruption by the butler of urgent news from lands far, far away.

Thus it is only fitting that today we hear that the New York Times has shut down its fabled Recording Room which was the journalist’s last savior for phoning in a scoop before deadline. No more dashing to the lobby of the racetrack to phone in results over a pay phone. AT & T even announced that they’re getting out of the payphone business all together.

I guess it’s about time for trenchcoats and fedoras to come back in style.

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Office

Yahoo! Pipes : A Giant Erector Set for the Web

logo_1.gifI’m not a programmer but I love to tinker. Much to the chagrin of my parents, I liked nothing better than taking things apart and seeing how they worked. The thing that made the early web so much fun was the View > Page Source command in the browser which allowed me to take apart any website and figure out how it was put together.

APIs and XML pushed that all into the background for weekend duffers like me. All the parameters that went into building an interactive page were hidden from me. Many sites would expose bits of what was going on in the URL field and I could still play around by swapping out variables that I could see in plain text but the ability to parse out the results and display them in format that I wanted was beyond my basic skills and I could only work on one page at a time, unable to string the output of one page to the input of another.

Today’s release of Yahoo! Pipes is just the product I need to begin to muck around again. Choose any RSS feed as a data source and break down the URL into it’s basic components. Drag in any of the various modules to substitute parameters, filter, join, sort, or otherwise transform the results and harness the output as an RSS feed which you can easily subscribe or embed into your site.

Pipes has embraced the View Source culture. Every published Pipe on the system can be cloned, stripped apart and repurposed for your own use. You can nest pipes inside one another or string them together so that early pipes become the building blocks for more complex routines.

Want to read a mashed up feed of the top autoblogs filtered to specific luxury European autos? No problem.

Looking for the latest flickr photos and weather conditions at Whistler? You got it.

My own itch was trying to figure out if I should buy something off of my local Craigslist, bid for it on eBay, or just buy it outright. Instead of daily searches on a series of sites, I now have one place to go.

Big ol’ caveat. This is not a finished product! Edward, Daniel, Jonathan, Pasha, and Kevin have created a beautiful platform but this is just the first step in an exciting direction which is already generating lots of debate. Pipes levels the playing field and invites the masses into the sandbox. Let’s all play nice together and bend those tubes around and make something wonderful.

Resources:

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Web 2.0 Summit – where do we go from here?

Various technological shenanigans kept me from live-blogging last week’s Web 2.0 Summit as planned so here’s my run down of the highlights from my notes. Don Tapscott’s workshop and the popular Launchpad session are covered in earlier posts.

The conference has already been covered in depth so I’ll try and add my own personal observations that are hopefully somewhat unique.

At the keynote, Tim O’Reilly mentioned that some 5,000 people were turned away from attending the conference. The standard admission was north of $3,000 so doing the math on that you can imagine why the organizers have announced a sister show, The Web 2.0 Expo in April 2007, which they hope will catch the folks wanting to attend just to see what all the fuss is about. Tickets will be more reasonable and the sessions will be more like the workshop format that you see at something like MacWorld or PubCon.

My prediction is that next year’s Web 2.0 Summit will be much more a deal-making platform for the VCs and tickets will be in the neighborhood of $5k – $10k and will feature a select group of startups and executives invited in by the organizers to talk about the latest trends. Tim said himself that “disruption has happend” and that consolidation was already underway. The Web 2.0 Summit will facilitate this consolidation by bringing the biggest players in behind closed doors to map out the future.

If this is really the case, it’s a double-edged sword. I think pretty much everyone in attendence had pretty much already grokked what Web 2.0 is about and are thinking less about opportunites on the edges and more about how to take over the center. Back in May it was about reaching the 53,651 readers of Techcrunch to launch your product. Today Techcrunch’s Feedburner chicklet is showing 125k readers and what was once a watering hole for early adopters has gravitated towards the center. Getting covered by TC is now a ticket to the adult’s table so it’ll be harder and harder to just play around with something and float it out there to the Web 2.0 watchers to see what happens. The need to scale quickly to keep your audience will require access to funding and the VCs and large internet companies (including Yahoo) are only too happy to step in and help out.

Despite this white hot spotlight on the community, I hope that the easy access to inexpensive hosting, open source software, apis, and rss give startups the right mix to be able to fend off acquisition or funding until they can take it on terms that are right for their business and their audience.

There were a few events during the week that point to a healthy community that exists beyond the glow of chocolate fountain parties. Monday’s Widgetslive conference, Web 2.2, and the Citizen Summit workshop were all enjoyable because they were smaller and more focused on sharing operational best practices than on grander trends. I hope these events can continue to keep the flame alive but I fear the temptation of fame and fortune just around the corner is going to make it hard unless this group can pull themselves together around a new meme that defines a new approach or business model – one we haven’t discovered yet.

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I’ve been Wagged!

It wasn’t exactly the debut on Valleywag I was looking for but I’m on a roster of folks scheduled to be booted from Yahoo next week:

Senior Product Manager in Corporate Development Ian Kennedy [here for another ride (maybe the tilt-a-whirl)]

Heh.  They’ve got me in the wrong group, I’m a Product Manager of publisher.yahoo.com putting some of my ideas around Social Media into action. The wifi on my laptop is on the fritz which kept me from live-blogging the Web 2.0 as I planned. I’ll let you know if my ID card stops working!

If you have nothing better to do, I’m sure there’s a betting pool going on somewhere.

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“We can’t control the puppets”

Success on the internet is not a zero sum game. New activity can come from any corner and audience and attention often expands to meet this demand. Much has to do with the spirit of “giving back” which is one of the principles upon which the internet is founded. Take what you need and when you can, give something back to make the online world a better place for the rest of us.

This same spirit is what drives the Hack Day efforts at Yahoo. “Mash up or Shut Up” was one of the early mottos for Hack Day. It encapsulated the idea that grumbling about a shortcoming or missing feature is a waste of bandwidth. Tackle the problem yourself and lead the way. Be resourceful, lead by example, show us how it works. Sell your idea with a prototype, not a powerpoint.

This past weekend Yahoo opened its doors to outside developers, invited them to pitch tents on the grassy commons. We showed them the knobs and levers they could use to make the world a better place. Many Yahoos cleared out their busy schedules to welcome people from all over and show them around. I was working the tables at registration and it was really great to meet people from as far away as Canada, Chicago, Florida, and New Jersey. No one really knew what to expect when the weekend started but we were all pleasantly suprised.

When Beck was first pitched to play at Yahoo (through a skateboarding connection!) the organizers were thinking it’d be cool to have him play a few tunes on acoustic guitar while sitting on a stool in our cafeteria. Not only did Beck say he’d be happy to play to a crowd of Yahoo hackers, he countered that he wanted to bring his full stage show. Another pleasant suprise.

Wonderful things happen when you let your audience participate. Yahoo understands that we are defined by the people that use our services. If we give them the tools to participate, both with Yahoo and with each other, we will all be pleasantly suprised by what they give back. The world will be a better place and audience attention will expand to support what gets created.

Hack Day was started to let Yahoo engineers in the search group scratch an itch and show off their coding chops to their colleagues. With each successive Hack Day, the group of participants grew so now anyone, regardless of location or business unit can be part of it. It only made sense to continue this inclusive trend and open it up to outsiders. Expand the pool and raise the bar. Isn’t that how evolution works? I am so proud that Chad, Bradley, and the executives at Yahoo followed through on their intuition and made this event happen. It was a risk that they didn’t have to take. The standard developer’s conference is usually more structured and shys away from marshmallow guns.

We do things a little differently at Yahoo and I think our approach will pay us back in many unexpected ways for years to come. The barriers to participation are lower than they’ve ever been, the only thing holding you back is your creativity. Come on by and help define the world you live in.

Selected Coverage:

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Serving the space between – Yahoo Publisher Network

ypn.gifAs a blogger and old school web publisher (Tokyo Q, one of my first efforts, is now enjoying its 10th year of service), I love to talk about tools that help publishers take advantage of the internet as a delivery channel. Coming up on my first anniversary at the big Y, I am now putting my back to a project that I believe will have a huge impact on Yahoo’s partnership with online publishers. As Product Manager of the Yahoo Publisher Network, I hope to create a place where everyone from the casual blogger looking for extra widgets to the online editor of a major media site can come learn about and manage everything Yahoo has to offer to support their craft.

 

I enjoy working with a team towards the common goal of putting out a product that is used by people around the world and look forward to doing this with the YPN team. I’ll be working with Cody Simms who I met during my first week at Yahoo and see as a kindred spirit in the quest to get the word out about all the cool things Yahoo does. I am also looking forward to working with folks like David Zito, Andrew Negrin, John Lindal, and a host of other really talented developers. It’s rare that you have a developer team as fired up about a project as the Product Manager and it’s clear I’m going to have to work hard to keep up with them.

 

I will be spending time at the Yahoo Burbank offices learning about the advertising side of the business. All the systems that power the ads that run next to the Yahoo Search results and on partner sites across the web are optimized to serve not only the user, but also the web site publisher and advertiser. Balancing the needs of each of these parties is an art, especially in these times when the proverbial invisible hand is trying to figure out where to push.

 

I admire the work the Yahoo Developer Network has done to document various Yahoo APIs and UI libraries for the developer community. Chad Dickerson and those before him have done great work in turning Yahoo inside out and embracing a new world which now extends beyond the yahoo.com domain.

 

I hope to bring this same collaborative spirit YPN. Provide tools that make it easy. Push the technical hassle into the background, let the publisher focus on their readership, building an audience, matching products and services to that audience. It’s not hard to stitch two web services together to make a compelling mashup, we need this same ease of use and community for online publishers.

A few of us spent a morning last Friday walking about 30 Yahoo employees through setting up and accessorizing their blogs. Everybody got up and running but there is still a huge opportunity to make it easier and more integrated. Building a readership is hard enough, the tools and utilities to support your readers need to be easy to integrate. The individual pieces are in place, we just need to put them into a package and create a home where a community of publishers can learn from and help each other succeed. Wish me luck!

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Chinese Blog tops Technorati 100

Technorati has been keeping track of the increasing number of blogs in languages other than English reporting at their last State of the Blogosphere that English is no longer the dominate language of blogs; the majority of blog posts are now in Japanese.

The number one blog on the Technorati 100 is now, 老徐 徐静蕾 新浪BLOG by Xu Jing Lei taking over the number one spot from BoingBoing earlier this month. Using Yahoo’s updated Babel Fish service, this title of this blog translates roughly to, "Old static flower bud." I think there’s  a cultural nuance that I’m missing here. Anyone know what this blog is about?

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2005 in Review

I sort of let the holidays wash over me without taking the time to do much more than the bare minimum. I guess it’s age but it seemed like the Halloween > Thanksgiving > Christmas medley roared through before I could soak it in. I believe that is what happens as you get older – the notion of 12 months making up a year and the need to mark the passing of each one seems more and more arbitrary, unnecessary, and a bit artificial. Anyway, that’s my lame excuse for only now getting around to sending you my annual update.

This has been a year of putting down roots. It was our first full year in the San Francisco Bay Area so we spent most weekends exploring our new home. A couple of highlights:

January:
Six Apart, the startup I worked at with my sister Mie, moves to the city and I start to commute to the city, usually by bus but when the weather was nice, by ferry which was spectacular. Tyler learns to ride his bicycle without training wheels and we join the Yarrington’s for a snowboarding trip up at Tahoe.

February:
A quick trip out to Hawaii to relax a bit with Izumi’s parents. Sun, Sand, Surf, and garlic shrimp on the North Shore. I take a Howard Rheingold book and get hooked on SMS and the fact that I can text a friend in Scotland while waiting in line to get on a submarine in Waikiki.

March:
We visit the Russian River for the annual Barrel Tasting festival. We taste some wonderful Champagnes and Pinots and later commune with the Redwoods and Izumi finds a giant four leaf clover. Tyler takes up t-ball and akido. We start reading the Harry Potter books together. Julia learns the theme song to the movie. My Japanese Grandfather passes away peacefully while taking a bath.

April:
Izumi passes her written test for a California license on the third and final try. I try my hand at professional blogging and conceive, install, design, and write for dymag-usa.com, a site to promote the motorcycle wheels made by Izumi’s father’s company.

May:
Intrigued by Daddy’s interpretation of Professor Dumbledore, Tyler takes up reading and uses a bookmark to mark his place in Green Eggs & Ham which we nibble over the course of a week. One last trip up to Tahoe where, amazingly, we ski in t-shirts.

June:
Izumi and the kids head off to Japan for two months so that Tyler & Julia can get a taste of Japanese school. Julia’s happy to follow in Tyler’s footsteps and attend the “little t school” where Tyler went last year. Daddy catches up on some live music and sees Les Claypool, Oliver Mtukudzi, and the Devo cover band Mongoloid all one month.

July:
Daddy, hating spending time in a big empty house by himself, finds things to do on the weekends. He goes sailing on the bay and lets his sister drag him out to a rave and ends up having a good time.

August:
The family is rejoined in Japan where I spend a short week hitting old haunts but not able to meet everyone I would have liked. Julia’s talking up a storm in both English and Japanese and is becoming her own person. She masters the art of the batting eyelashes.

September:
After getting my picture in the paper as a business blogging expert, I decide it’s time to push on and leave Six Apart for Yahoo. To celebrate, I buy an iPod Nano and listen to podcasts during my daily drive down to Silicon Valley. I visit my relatives out in Tennessee but decide not to try the wakeboard this time.

October:
Mie and Dav get married, my parents visit San Francisco, and we buy a Tivo. For Halloween Julia is a generic Princess in Pink and Tyler is a Ghost Buster. We hand out $60 in candy in less than two hours and Tyler loses his first tooth and I get my first traffic ticket.

November:
We visit the Mystery Spot in the Santa Cruz mountains and Izumi gets sick. We join a local health club situated in an old naval aircraft hanger. Tyler and Julia take up soccer lessons.

December:
Julia gets four Barbie for Christmas and Tyler now favors his new Bionicles and Transformers over Thomas the Tank Engine. Packing our bags for a long weekend down in Monterey, I’m reminded that this is where we spent our New Year’s last year. It looks like First Night on Alvarado Street is getting to be a Kennedy family tradition. As we head into our second year on the West Coast, we look at doing more of the stuff we liked and less of the stuff we didn’t. I do believe taking stock of the year is a useful exercise and I thank you for indulging me.